The Stack Archive

Taking a logical approach to saving data centre energy

Tue 10 Jun 2014


Once considered relatively inconsequential to IT management, energy costs have become more significant as the rise in consumption has been exacerbated by a steady – and in some years, substantial – increase in the cost of electricity.  Here, Emiliano Cevenini argues that managers are focussing on piecemeal reductions when what is needed a holistic approach to energy use.

In the data centre world there is a lot of focus on improving energy efficiency. As an industry we are constantly striving towards creating components that are XX% more efficient than the ones before, but is this approach really giving us the best results in terms of saving energy?

By focussing on the performance of individual components we are sometimes failing to see the bigger picture of data centre energy consumption. What is lacking is a genuine cohesive, holistic approach for reducing energy use. With the issue of how we use power becoming more pressing, we need to think differently about how we manage energy efficiency. We need to take a more logical approach and begin looking at how we use energy within the data centre from end-to end and identify where real energy savings can be made.

Realising the potential
If data centre managers are to realise the potential savings of their new energy efficient equipment, they need to reassess their procurement procedures and start asking themselves questions such as: “Is it worth spending money replacing a piece of equipment with one that is 100% more efficient if we will only save 2% of our data centre’s total energy use?”

The first step towards answering these questions and prioritising energy saving opportunities is to gain a solid understanding of data centre energy consumption. This involves identifying which areas of the data centre have the most potential for energy reduction. For example cooling systems are likely to account for a large proportion of a data centre’s energy use, so the next step may be to look at what processes can be put in place to help address those energy consumption issues in that area.

Any energy-reduction initiatives should be based upon policies that encourage the use of efficient IT technologies, specifically low-power processors and high-efficiency power supplies. This will allow more efficient technologies to be introduced into the data centre as part of the normal equipment replacement cycle. Power management software should also be considered in applications where it is appropriate, as it may provide greater savings than any other single technology, depending on data centre utilisation. IT consolidation projects also play an important role in data centre optimisation. Both blade servers and virtualisation contribute to energy savings and support a high-density environment that facilitates true optimisation.

The final steps in a logical energy optimisation strategy are to focus on infrastructure systems, employing a combination of best practices and efficient technologies to increase the efficiency of power and cooling systems. Together these strategies have proven to have a dramatic effect on the energy performance of data centres.

Data centres of the future
Of course when anyone talks about saving power in the data centre, the latest crop of energy efficient data centres, pioneered by the likes of Google and Amazon, are always mentioned. These data centres have been grabbing headlines with their innovative solutions to tackling the issue of energy efficiency. The media often focusses on radical innovations such as re-using toilet water for cooling or making use of geothermal energy to power the data centre. But the question people ask when they see these stories is: when will we see these innovations beginning to filter into standard data centre practice?

The truth is that sudden transformations are not happening right now. As one of the foremost suppliers of critical infrastructure equipment in such mega data centres, we predict that although we will see eventual shift change, this will not happen quickly. Many of the data centres we have today are designed to still be operational for the next 15 years.

The best option for most data centres is to simply follow the flow of energy through their unique data centre in a logical manner and address each inflection point as; IT software, applications, business, and infrastructure refreshes take place.

Though we are not seeing immediate radical energy efficiency change taking place, there is still great opportunity for data centres to save on energy costs by taking a holistic and logical approach to the systems they put in place.

Emiliano Cevenini is vice president marketing at Emerson Network Power Systems EMEA

Based on an article that first appeared in Data Centre Management magazine.


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